The similarities in thinking of the two longtime colleagues, Epstein and Cherington, obviously extends to the subject of who would make a great manager. Their lists to fill their managerial openings are so similar, in fact, you almost can't tell one list from the other.
Perhaps one might assume that is because they had a few weeks together to discuss Terry Francona's replacement before Epstein moved on to Chicago to take his new job, enough time to start to come to a consensus on the candidates. But perhaps the bigger reason is that Epstein and Cherington value the same attributes in a manager.
Both teams' lists contain Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum, who is seen as a pre-interview favorite by some people close to the decisionmakers, plus Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux and Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin. Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. is on the Red Sox' interview list, and may make it onto the Cubs' list as well. Rays bench coach Dave Martinez and Dodgers coach Tim Wallach appear to be at least backup plans in Boston. So one can imagine the same duo may be waiting on deck for the Cubs. DeMarlo Hale, a Red Sox coach, may also make the Cubs list, giving it just the slightest differentiation. He's a Francona disciple, so he isn't seen as a possibility in Boston.
Neither team seems to be making a move toward Cubs icon Ryne Sandberg, who instead has a shot in St. Louis, which has its own very different list. And Francona, seen as a possible favorite in St. Louis, almost surely won't be coming to the Cubs, no matter what kind things Epstein says about him publicly.
What's more, Blue Jays manager John Farrell might actually have headed both lists had Toronto allowed him to talk to either. But the Blue Jays, not wanting their prized one-year manager to bolt for the rival Red Sox, revised their open-door policy to say employees are no longer permitted to interview for lateral jobs.
Both the Cubs and Red Sox want someone who understands the front office and is willing to go along with its program but also someone who can lay down the hammer in the clubhouse, which is a rare combination.
Sveum is said to have entered the interviews either at or near the top of both lists now, though both Epstein and Cherington are believed open to revising their opinions (that's another similarity between the two execs). Sveum was recognized by Red Sox people as a bad third base coach who filled that position on the historic 2004 championship team in Boston, but he is also beloved for having an excellent rapport for players and exceptionally strong baseball sense. One AL exec says Sveum gets a "plus plus'' for both player relations and feel for the game. Sveum isn't as famous or accomplished as Sandberg and isn't as charismatic as Francona. But he feels like the flavor of the day.
Sveum has only 16 games major league managing experience, 12 coming at the end of the Brewers' 2008 season plus the four in the NLDS lost to the Phillies that followed. But it is clear from the lists that a big major league managing resume is not required. Mackanin has the most big-league managing of the bunch, as he was interim in both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Mackanin did a particularly good job with the Reds in 2007, going 41-39 after taking over a team at midseason that was 20 games under .500, and he was about to be extended by then-GM Wayne Krivsky before owner Bob Castellini overruled him for a big name, Dusty Baker.
Maddux, Alomar, Wallach and Martinez have not had any major league managing experience, though like the others they are all well-regarded in the industry. Alomar, the beloved Indians coach, has a chance to wow Red Sox people as he enters his interview this week, sources said. Meanwhile, Maddux is correctly credited with the monster success of the Rangers pitching staff over the past few years, and before that the Brewers. Maddux helped transform C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando from relievers into successful starting pitchers. Wallach, a strong minor league manager, is seen as a key coach in the monster seasons Adrian Beltre and now Matt Kemp have had in Los Angeles. The keen interest in Farrell demonstrates the emphasis on pitching, so the well-regarded Maddux is seen as likely way up the list, too.
Martinez is a vital player in the ultra-successful Rays machine who gets extra points for being at the side of Joe Maddon, who coincidentally finished second to Francona when Epstein made his first managerial hire a hit in Boston. Epstein, politely, has suggested Francona could become a candidate in Chicago. But those close to Boston's situation are quick to remind people that Epstein was the GM when Francona was let go in Boston. Some in Boston say behind the scenes they even believe Francona should take a year off to recharge his batteries before coming back stronger than ever.
One thing is apparent, and that is that neither the Cubs nor Red Sox is rushing into the hire to beat the other out. That means the interviews count, and someone has a chance to unseat Sveum and probably Maddux at the top of the respective lists. The Red Sox job carries much more potential to win early, but also more pressure. Most would think the Boston job is more desirable because its major league roster and farm system are much better, but Chicago is also a coveted destination (as Epstein and former Padres GM Jed Hoyer could tell you) and the top four known candidates for both teams all have ties to the Midwest.
Epstein's shrewdness and skill are being put to an early test in Boston, and his first big hire may be his most important one in awhile. Ultimately, the managerial call will be even more important than placing the appropriate value on himself.
It would be hard to make a bigger mess of a general manager search than the Orioles did even if they had actually been trying to make a mess.
Before signing up ex-Red Sox GM Dan Duquette on Sunday, the Orioles had run through a veritable Who's Who of baseball executives. If you're keeping score, Jerry Dipoto chose the Angels over the Orioles, Tony LaCava turned down the offer, Andrew Friedman, Rick Hahn and Allard Baird turned down interviews, DeJon Watson pulled out of the derby, the Twins technically declined permission to talk to Mike Radcliff (although, sources say Minnesota was just sparing the Orioles' feelings and Radcliff didn't want to go, anyway) and Damon Oppenheimer received permission to talk to the Orioles but no interview was ever set up (no matter, word was that Oppenheimer also wasn't all that interested).
It's no wonder finding a GM was difficult. The Orioles have a weak major league roster and weaker farm system, they reside in the impossible AL East, have an owner with the reputation for being overbearing (though Orioles people insist Peter Angelos isn't as involved as he once was) and a manager who is said to have the final say on all matters major league.
"It isn't a full GM job,'' one AL exec opined, referring to manager Buck Showalter's extraordinary powers.
The Orioles started with a foursome of Dipoto, LaCava, Watson and in-house courtesy interviewee John Stockstill. But once Dipoto opted for the Angels, the Orioles tried hard for LaCava. Eventually, he chose to stay with the Blue Jays, citing a close relationship with star young GM Alex Anthopoulos. LaCava was going to be allowed to bring several people with him, though word is that the Orioles were balking at removing two holdover executives (i.e. Angelos acolytes) from their current roles. While it's believed LaCava got a raise to stay, it still was a minor embarrassment to the Orioles since the 30 GM jobs are coveted and assistant GMs don't often turn down those offers after interviews.
Orioles people have expressed regret about letting LaCava leave the building with his offer. But there is no way to force someone to take an offer short of locking them in a holding cell.
Orioles people will admit they didn't interview enough candidates in the first round. But the biggest problem was the treatment of Watson, the highly-respected Dodgers assistant GM who happened to be the one minority candidate.
Orioles people told Watson and everyone who'd listen that he had a great interview, and that as a scout and player development guy he was a perfect candidate. Yet, after Dipoto and LaCava were off the board and Watson was the only one standing (not counting Stockstill), rather than offering the job to Watson, the Orioles started over, making at least a half-dozen new calls. Pretty soon and predictably, Watson bowed out. Orioles people were upset by this as it added to their embarrassment. But by this point it seemed pretty clear Watson wasn't a real candidate anyway.
With Watson having a great interview, being the only one left and not getting an offer, it seems clear he was only a token interviewee. The Orioles PR department (@BirdlandInsider) called that assertion "irresponsible'' via Twitter, yet true or not, it's almost undeniable that that is the way it looked to people throughout baseball. Orioles people see their problem as the number of first-round candidates, and it's true that a greater number of candidates may have removed the appearance of tokenism.
Phillies exec Scott Proefrock plus Dan Duquette were added to the mix late, and Orioles people eventually settled on Duquette, a smart man who doesn't exactly fit the ideal of a scouting guy. Both had ties to the team. Proefrock is a ex-Orioles exec who still lives in Baltimore and is part of the class action lawsuit where Angelos' law firm won $495 million against Exxon for spoiling a neighborhood. Duquette is familiar with the Orioles, as his cousin Jim Duquette worked ostensibly as a co-GM with the late Mike Flanagan.
Duquette had a big hand in Boston's 2004 World Series title. He signed Manny Ramirez, traded for Pedro Martinez and swung a dealwith Seattle for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek in exchange for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb.
Duquette deserves congratulations for getting back in as a GM after a decade away (he supposedly interviewed well in Anaheim, too, where he had a connection from Montreal to ex-Angels GM Bill Stoneman). But some might say he deserves condolences, too.
• The early word continues to be that the Cardinals don't have much leeway to enhance their nine-year, $200 million offer to the iconic Albert Pujols. They made money with the World Series title, though, so they should be able to raise it a bit if they are so inclined.
• Francona seems to have a decent shot at the Cardinals managing job. Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina are said to be pulling for longtime Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo. (Ex-Cardinals teammate David Eckstein told Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com that "Albert would stay if Oquendo got the job.") But Francona has always been known as a player's manager, and it's hard to imagine the Cardinals making their managerial selection based on a hope it may influence Pujols. The Cardinals have called an eclectic mix of candidates that also includes Sandberg, who is well deserving of a chance somewhere. It doesn't appear Jim Riggleman will have a shot in the first round of interviews.
• People familiar with what went on in the Red Sox clubhouse say Francona tried to stem unrest among the players with a late team meeting but believe Francona may have erred by never confronting Josh Beckett one-on-one. Beckett was seen by other Red Sox players as among the more vocal detractors of Francona behind the scenes. Francona long was beloved in the clubhouse so this was a unusual situation for him.
• Hard to believe there are three big-market managerial openings, and Bobby Valentine's name hasn't come up yet. It's like there's a Mets curse (or at least a taint). Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel, two smart men who have winning records, haven't drawn managerial interest, either, since leaving New York.
• Free agent closer Ryan Madson is drawing a lot of early interest. The Red Sox, Phillies, Nationals, Rangers and Marlins are believed among those interested.
• The Mets may at least listen to trade overtures for David Wright, according to the New York Post's Joel Sherman (@JoelSherman1). Teams that might have interest at third base include the Tigers, Cubs, Angels, Dodgers, Rockies, Marlins, Phillies, Brewers and Mariners.
• The few viable starting pitchers on the market are, predictably, getting lots of hits. That includes not only the top dog C.J. Wilson but also Edwin Jackson, Mark Buehrle and Roy Oswalt. Close to 20 teams are out there looking for starting pitching.
• The center of trade activity could be with the Braves and Giants, the two teams that actually have starting pitching to trade. The Braves are listening on Jair Jurrjens and are looking for a young shortstop and young outfielder. The Kansas City Star said there has been talking with the Royals (a frequent Braves trading partner) revolving around outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Wil Myers. The Royals are well-stocked with young position players and would prefer to trade for a starting pitcher than overpay for a free agent such as Wilson. The Giants are thought willing to trade Jonathan Sanchez, but it isn't known yet whether they would seriously consider parting with either Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain.
• Magglio Ordoñez had his ankle surgery and wants to play, tough he'll probably first have to show he's healthy.
• Folks believe the Marlins will indeed be big players on the market. One person said new manager Ozzie Guillen is pushing for either Pujols or Prince Fielder. And while those players could be out of their reach, the Marlins are expected to be active on the free agent market.
• David Ortiz has been known to complain publicly about how his negotiations go with the Red Sox, and every time it seems like an indication about how desperate he is to stay. No matter, off the year he had (.309, 29 home runs, 96 RBIs), he should be able to get a multiyear deal despite the trend toward one-year deals for designated hitters.
• CC Sabathia became that rare star player not to exercise the opt out in his contract off a productive season, but by using the opt out to increase his guarantee from $92 million to $132 million, he also increased his lead among active pitchers in guaranteed money earned. Sabathia's career guaranteed total haul is up to $228 million now, followed by Johan Santana at $167 million, Roy Halladay at $150 million, Barry Zito and Cliff Lee at $144 million, A.J. Burnett at $123 million, Josh Beckett at $119 million, Carlos Zambrano at $115 million, Derek Lowe and John Lackey at $110 million and World Series hero Chris Carpenter at $103 million.
• MLB did a nice job making a deal that will result in the embattled Frank McCourt selling the storied Dodgers. Word is, McCourt wants to get $1.2 billion, which will give him a chance to pay all his many creditors and walk away with some money. Many viable people are lining up to bid on the Dodgers, including ex-Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley, financier Ron Burkle, former superagent Dennis Gilbert, a group that includes former Dodgers GM Fred Claire and another group with former Dodgers stars Steve Garvey and Orel Hershiser. Four more potential bidders include Hollywood producer Burt Sugarman, former Dodgers trustee Tom Schieffer, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and a mystery New York moneyman whose name has not surfaced yet. So far there is no indication current team owners with L.A. ties such as Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, A's owner Lew Wolff or Red Sox chairman Tom Werner are going to try to jump to the Dodgers. McCourt will pick the winning bidder in an auction set-up, with MLB having final approval.